Saturday, August 9, 2008

It's been a while

I case anyone ever checks my blog anymore I thought I would post an update. I stopped updating my blog sometime ago for various reason and I apologize to anyone who may have wondered what was going on. I'm back in the states now at my new job. I've been home for a month and feel completely adjusted to being back. Iraq seems a bit like a dream now. I'm so happy to be back with my family. I missed my wife and kids so much and it's such a joy to be able to see them everyday. I certainly don't take seeing them for granted anymore.

Thanks to those of you who followed along over the last 10 months or so. I appreciated the support and positive comments very much.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Back From Leave

After what was an amazingly fast couple weeks with my family I'm back to the grind in Iraq. I had an absolutely fantastic time at home. My parents were able to come spend some time with us which was great. My kids were on spring break and my wife took off work the second week I was home and we had a great time. Just spending time with them was great, but we also did a few fun things. We went to Baltimore and enjoyed the Medieval Times dinner theatre. We also went to Colonial Williamsburg for a few days. We were there for the opening day of Busch Gardens theme park. It was a lot of fun. I want to mention something great about this park - they offer 4 free passes a year for members of the military so my family got in free. It's a great program and I appreciate the generosity very much.

I know I said I had a great visit already, but it really was good. It's also very painful to have to pack back up and leave again, but I got some great news while I was home that helps to lessen that pain somewhat. I had a job interview while I was home and I was lucky enough to be selected for a squadron command position. I was very happy and surprised to be selected, but I was even more surprised when I found out I was being released early from Iraq to report for my next job. The way it looks now, I'll be leaving Iraq in time to make a mid July report date. I feel bad in a way because I volunteered to spend a year here and I'll be leaving a little early, but I'm extremely happy that I don't have to spend as much time away from my family and I'm humbled that I get the opportunity to be a squadron commander.

I hope the next three months go by as quickly as the last 6 have....


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Going on leave

I'm amazed (and happy) at how fast time has gone. I can't believe it's been a month since my last post. I apologize for not writing more, but it's sort of hard to come up with new things to write about when everyday is like a duplicate of the last. On a very positive note, I leave this week to head home on my mid-tour leave. I get to spend two weeks with my wonderful family. I'm very excited and a little nervous to see how much my kids have grown, and I can't wait to see my beautiful wife. I'll also be able to spend time with my parents. It should be a great break from here and a much needed chance to spend time with my family. I'll update my blog when I get back from leave.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Garbage and Bomb Craters

Here are some more pictures from my travels around Baghdad doing route clearance. I've tried to show the contrast in living conditions within this city. People live in open garbage dumps in houses made of tin cans and plastic bottles, and then there are somewhat normal looking neighborhoods. The one thing that's a constant is garbage. It's everywhere. The picture with the children waving looks like a decent neighborhood, but what you can't see is the view behind where I took the picture from. There are mountains of garbage covering everything. Electricity is run with makeshift wires trailing everywhere.
I included the last picture to illustrate the IED problem. Look closely at the picture and you can spot 4 places where IED's have exploded. The route clearance business is deadly serious - this week has been especially bad for the young men who do it day in and day out. I'm lucky I only go out on occassion - these warriors get up everyday and go out looking for traps meant to kill them. The sad fact is, no matter how well trained and equipped they are, sometimes the worst happens......and the next day these boys load up and go searching again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Clearing the Way

I recently went to training on how to conduct route clearance operations. As you can imagine by the title, it involves clearing IEDs from the routes used by coalition forces. Without getting into the details - you drive around looking for IEDs so they don't get other vehicles. It's interesting to say the least. After completing my training, I've been participating in the clearance operations. I've included some pictures of a few of the vehicles used, as well as pictures from around Baghdad. Many of the operations are at night so I don't have pictures, although I did throw one in of me getting ready to go out at night. I wish I could talk more about it, but this is something we really don't want the bad guys to know very much about.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Combat Lifesaver Course

Yesterday I was certified as a Combat Lifesaver (CLS) after finishing the Army's CLS course. This course covered areas such as performing tactical combat casualty care, opening and managing an airway, treating penetrating chest trauma and decompressing a tension pneumothorax, initiating a saline lock and intravenous infusion, and requesting medical evacuation. There are several other areas also covered, but this gives you a general idea of what we learned. The purpose of the course is to provide a bridge between the basic first aid taught to everyone in the military and the medical training a combat medic receives. The combat lifesaver is a non medical soldier or in my case an Airman, who provides lifesaving measures as a secondary mission as the primary mission allows. Normally there's one combat lifesaver per squad or team. Because a medic may take several minutes to reach a casualty, the CLS can provide immediate care that can save a persons life, such as stopping severe bleeding, administering intravenous fluids to control shock, and performing needle chest decompression for a casualty with tension pneumothorax.

The first part of the course was classroom learning and hands on applications with airway control, needle chest decompression, and administering IVs. I was given a nasopharyngeal airway and also gave one to another student. The best way I can describe this is to imagine a plastic hose the size of your pinkie finger being shoved up your nose and coming out the back of your throat. I learned it hurts very much and that I have some sort of nasal blockage that keeps the tube from going all the way through. I learned this after much pushing and twisting failed to force the tube in my nose and resulted in a bloody nose. I had better luck administering the tube to my "patient" and managed to get it in with only mild discomfort to him. Of course we can't do needle decompressions on each other so we used a medical training aid for that. We did have the opportunity to practice IV's on each other. That was an interesting training session. Lots of blood and three people who fell out - one of which completely passed out for a good amount of time. I've attached some pictures of the IV training - if you don't like the sight of blood you should avoid those pictures. The culmination of the course was field application of the skills we were taught. We put on all our combat gear and attended to "wounded" soldiers. The instructors did a great job of creating realistic wounds and battle field conditions for us to practice with. We had the opportunity to administer IVs again - and of course get them administered to us if we were "casualties". I was lucky enough to play a casualty as well as a CLS. I meant to get pictures of the field exercise but forgot my camera that day.

Here are the pictures I did get.

The first three show my IV setup and me giving the IV. The last shot is of me getting mine.

Friday, January 11, 2008

At Least It Wasn't Rockets Falling From The Sky

About midnight last night I heard what I thought were far off explosions. It took me a few minutes to realize what I was hearing was thunder. A few hours later I awoke to the sound of rain hitting the trailer. It's rained a few times here, but on those occasions by morning it was hard to tell anything happened. When I got up this morning I expected to walk outside and see a few puddles and not much else as a result of the rain. When I opened my door it took me a few seconds to register what I was seeing. There was snow falling. It wasn't sticking to the ground, but it was coming down at a decent rate for a little bit. I'm not sure what the history of snow in Baghdad is, but according to this article, it doesn't happen very often. I can't say I was glad to be here to see this rare occurrence, but it was interesting.;_ylt=AqufIdpI0razJHGZD.akCz3q188F

So here's the downside to all this. What do you get when you mix lots of rain and wet snow with dirt, dirt, and more dirt? Yes....mud. Lots and lots of mud. Today it was about 2 inches deep anywhere off the pavement. Sorry, I don't have any pictures because I forgot my camera while I was out and about. Unfortunately, I think I'll have plenty of opportunities to get some shots of the mud. I'm sure about July when it's 120, I'll look back fondly on this cold wet weather - until then, it sucks.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Mop In One Hand And A Gun In The Other

I've come to accept that I'm not a good blogger. I had great expectations of writing a few times a week updating everyone on all the great and exciting things being done around Baghdad. Don't get me wrong - great and exciting things do happen here each and every day, I'm just not directly involved in much of that kind of stuff. That leaves the mundane and boring things for me to write about. I'm not sure how much of that you may be interested in. I realize my perspective has changed on what's exciting and what's not - many of you may think flying around Iraq visiting different camps, ducking small arms fire, and avoiding the now very infrequent rockets sounds exciting - and in some respects it is - but the reality is this.... travelling makes up about 10% or less of what I do here (and the other stuff is a minuscule amount, thank God) - and I'm one of the few in my organization that really goes off camp at all. My life here, condensed into a few posts on a blog, does not capture what it's really like. Most of the time it's sitting around doing routine work over and over and over. There's nothing wrong with that - it's much better than the constant threat of enemy action - it's just that at the end of the day there's no where to go and nothing to do but more of the same routine work. There just isn't much new to write about (considering most everything is either classified or restricted from being written about). That leaves me without much to write about except my opinion on what's happening generically around Iraq - unless you want to read about the highly armed Sunday cleaning detail and how I've perfected mopping the conference room while wearing a gun. So, baring any great and adventurous stories of my skill with the mop, I'll probably start writing more about my opinions and ideas on what's happening here.
I realize part of my problem is boredom has set in. I think even the guys going out on patrols every day get bored. A persons level of what's normal is based on what they do and see every day, so normal has been reset to a different level for people here - and certainly it's different even within different groups here. As an example, the large explosions occuring several times a week outside the perimeter wall are only momentarily startling and are mostly just routine now - although the people out there close to them would have a different opinion. It's all a matter of experience and perspective.
I'm sure I'll have many new experiences and adventures to share over the next 8+ months I have left (hopefully none involving being shot at, rocketed, mortared, bombed, etc.) and I promise to share those - but between any of that, I'll still try and write more, just don't expect it to be very exciting. That's about it for today.... Now where did I leave that mop?


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Iraq

Once again, I've been remiss in writing in my blog. Honestly it's hard to write very often because I can't really write about much of anything that goes on here. What I can write about today is Christmas in Iraq. It really has felt very little like Christmas. I was deployed two years ago at Christmas also, so I guess it has made this Christmas all that more distant feeling. Last night, there was an excellent Christmas eve service at the palace. It was very well done and definately helped reinforce what the true meaning of Christmas is.

Today my unit took a little different approach to Christmas. We went out to the range to do a little weapons training. The best way to show what this was like is with pictures so here you go - as a note - you'll see we had a little chance to "let our hair down" in some of the later pictures and we had a couple special visitors - Joe Dirt and Elvis.

The JIEDDO Iraq Field Team celebrating Christmas day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Well, after three or so weeks I'm finally posting an update. I hope no one was too worried about me. I have excuses out the whazoo for why I haven't written. Let me get them out of the way - first, I've been sick. Yes, I know that's a lame one, after all I should have had more time to write. I was sleeping most of the time when I was in my room so I wasn't doing any writing. I was also gone again. Out seeing the wonderful sights of Iraq - plus did I mention I was sick? See, now I'm looking for sympathy. Sick and traveling at the same time was really no fun. My final excuse is bad Internet connectivity. We've had a great deal of trouble with our Internet connection and it's been down a lot lately. OK - now I have all my excuses out of the way and I'll get down to the business of updating you on what's happening.

Things have been very quiet lately. With the exception of some small arms fire a few times there hasn't been much activity - let's hope it stays that way. I'm sure you've all seen the news on how the violence has decreased around Iraq. It's true - things are getting better. Here comes the personal opinion part - now is the time for the Iraqi people to seize this moment and actually rebuild their country. Other agencies outside of DoD need to step in and do some Nation building (hello? anyone from the State Department out there?) The military is great at lots of things but I don't think it's in our arena to rebuild Iraq from the ground up. Things are lined up to go in the right direction thanks to the tireless efforts of a small group of American men and women. If this initiative isn't capitalized on things can just as easily slip back into total chaos. It would be a sad day if that were to happen.

Enough of my opinion for now. I spent a little time in a real garden spot last week. Easily the dustiest place I've ever been in my life. Here are a couple pictures to show you how bare and desolate that place was.

I traveled by CH-46 again, my new least favorite way to fly. These things are the slowest, noisiest, most hydraulic fluid leaking things imaginable. On the positive side we didn't crash or get shot down. There's something to be said for that.
As my closing thoughts for today, I'd like to reflect on something. I've been here for about 10 weeks now. This is probably the time that seems the most bleak. The newness of being here has completely worn off and time has slowed down. Looking to the future I see over 9 months ahead of me. It seems like forever. Nothing seems close and everything seems slightly out of reach. The holidays take their toll also. I miss my family. I have the best wife and greatest kids a person could ever ask for and there are many times I kick myself for asking to be sent away from them. I have comfort in the thousands around me who are in the same situation, but it's a sad and lonely comfort for all of us. I hope Americans give more than a passing thought to the people who have volunteered to fight their battles and endure the hardships (and make the ultimate sacrifice) they do so the rest don't have to. Next time you talk to someone not associated with the military either directly or through a friend or loved one, ask them if they appreciate what people do for them.
That's it for today,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back from Another Trip

Sorry to go so long without posting. I was out traveling again and just returned last night. Like my last trip, I was checking on some equipment we have at another location and working on transferring some things from one location to another.
I thought I would describe whats involved in traveling around here - not so much from the logistics of it, but the personal side. In the picture below you can see what I packed for this trip. A few days worth of clothes and a sleeping bag inside the backpack - along with some spare ammo magazines and assorted other pieces of gear. Next to the back pack, and by far the heaviest piece of gear is my body armor. It has 6 magazines for my M-4 and 2 for my Glock, along with a first aid kit and a few other small items. My Kevlar helmet is next, of course both my weapons and some small things like a flashlight and multi-tool. It may not look like much, but for this trip the gear weighed 86 pounds. It's not too bad for a guy my size but I feel bad for the smaller guys and the guys that carry much much more gear than I do.

When it was time to head to the helipad I strapped all this stuff on and headed out. This trip I flew out and back on a CH-46. Here are a couple pictures for those of you who aren't familiar with them. Please note, these are not pictures I took - my flight was at night. The flights were interesting and much less eventful than my last trip.

I'll just throw up a couple pictures from this trip. I'm so limited on what I can say there's not much I can describe. There are two things I would like to point out. One is the picture with the cots and beds. This was our billeting for the trip. Not too bad really, but I needed the sleeping bag for sure. The other is the last picture. This is a shot of the new Osprey. They have just gone operational in Iraq and I thought it was interesting to see one coming in to land. As always, I'll post more pictures on my website soon.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Slice of Paradise

After nearly 6 weeks, I've finally moved into what will be my permanent room for the duration of my deployment. To give you a better idea of exactly where I am and what my living conditions are, I have some pictures from Google Earth and some of my own I'll use to explain my setup. It helps to click on each picture so you can see better detail as I explain them.

First is the regional view. If you look closely, you'll see two red circles. One is in Turkey and the other is in Kyrgyzstan. I spent 15 months in Turkey and 4 months in Kyrgyzstan so when I'm done in Iraq I'll have spent over 2 1/2 years in this part of the world.

Next, I'll zoom in on Baghdad and you'll see the Victory Base Complex circled in yellow. As you can see, we're located on the western side of Baghdad and we're connected to the Airport. If you look at the upper right side of the circle you'll see a greenish colored lake. This is called lost lake and is near where I work.


On the next zoom you get a better view of lost lake. Looking to the west of lost lake you can see where the Al Faw Palace is located in relation to our compound. To put it in perspective, the Palace is xxxxxxx from my building. The red line is to show you where the perimeter fence is.


Here's a view of our living trailers. This picture is taken looking southeast, so the lake is on the left behind the trailers and our work building is on the right across the road. The closest open door is my room. The great thing about where I'm situated is the proximity to the bathroom and shower trailers.

This is a view out of my room door. The trailer on the left is the shower and the one on the right is the restroom. A nice close walk.

The rooms are very small, but at least they're private - sort of anyway. The walls are so thin you can hear people cough, snore, talk, everything. If someone closes their door too hard it sounds like incoming - not a good thing for us. But all that aside - it's my slice of paradise for the next 10 1/2 months.

Just so you don't think - wow, they live by a lake! Here's the view behind our trailers, blast walls and sandbags. Nice waterfront property.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Morning Wake Up

I haven't really written much specifically about the rocket attacks occuring here other than to generically mention them. Only one of them has made the news, but there have been many more in the 5 weeks I've been here. To attempt to give you an idea of what it's like to go through one, I'll describe the one we had this morning. They're all different depending on the type of munition used and how close they come to where a person is on the camp - for security reasons I won't describe the type of rocket or the exact location of the impacts.

As I've mentioned before, there are lots of explosions all the time around here. Many of these occur outside the base but they still get your attention. I mention this because it has become somewhat normal to hear these at any time of the day or night, and usually the warrant nothing more than a quick "wow" or something of the sort and then you keep doing what you were doing. Rockets are different. We have an early warning system that sometimes goes off and gives us a very small amount of time to take cover. It can't always be heard depending on what you're doing or where you're at - but it's something. In our housing trailers, we have air conditioner units running non-stop and they make it hard to hear this warning system. This morning I was sound asleep, the AC was going so there was no hearing the warning. What did wake me up was the sound of the first rocket coming in. It's hard to describe the sound - it does have a whistling noise to it and sometimes you can hear the initial launch and rocket burn depending where it comes from. This morning it was just the whistling - it brought me out of my sleep just enough to not be fully asleep when about 2 seconds later the rocket impacted close to my trailer - I promise you it's not the way you want to wake up. The explosion is a very deep earth rattling sound - literally the ground shakes - followed by strange reverberations. It's very hard to describe. The time from initial sound to impact is seconds - but let me tell you - I was instantly awake before the reverberations were over. This was by far the closest impact yet. Now - after the initial rocket comes several more. Same scenario as the first, with them coming in over a period of 5 to 7 seconds. That may not seem like a long time, but when you're sitting there listening to each whistling rocket followed by the explosion - it seems like forever. In my 5 weeks here, we've had dozens and dozens (I don't want to get too specific, but it's a lot) of rockets come in. They hit all over the place at all times of the day - people laugh them off and everybody acts tough, but I'm not afraid to say these things are kind of scary. Today was the first time I've actually grabbed my helmet and body armor and hit the floor during an attack and the adrenaline took a good 30 minutes to wear off.

This was not the best description of what a rocket attack is like, but it might just be one of those things you have to experience to understand - I for one would be happy to never experience it again.........

On a different note - while this sounds bad for us, and it is, things are actually improving very dramatically in Iraq. Here's a link to an article in the Washington Post that pretty accurately captures what's going on.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Al Faw Palace

Today I thought I would post a little about the building used for the Headquarters of the operation here in Iraq. It's one of Saddam's many palaces that has been converted to military use. I go to the palace a couple times a week to conduct business so I thought I would share a little about it. I've included several pictures as well as a link to an MSNBC article about the palace. When you look at the article be sure to watch the video on the right side.

Here's a description of the palace I was able to get off the web.

The Al Faw Palace (also known as the 'Water Palace') is located in Baghdad approximately 5km from the Baghdad International Airport, Iraq and was commissioned to be built by Saddam Hussein to commemorate the re-taking of the Al Faw Peninsula by Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq conflict. The palace is situated on a former resort complex about 8 kilometers from the 'Green Zone', which is now referred to as the 'International Zone' or 'IZ' and the complex contains numerous villas and smaller palaces and is now one of the largest US/Coalition bases in Iraq (Camp Victory/ Camp Liberty). The palace contains over 62 rooms and 29 bathrooms. Many of the rooms have now been converted to serve as offices, and since 2004 the Palace has been used as the headquarters for the Multinational Force Iraq (MNFI) along with the Joint Operations Center (JOC), which serves as 'Mission Control' for all operational aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom. There is an artificial lake surrounding the palace that has a special breed of large bass dubbed the Saddam bass as well as large carp. Saddam formerly used the palace for duck-hunting expeditions.
Because of the very light damage to the Al Faw Palace and other structures located on what is now Camp Victory, it is widely presumed that the planners of the 2003 invasion intended that this area would be used as a headquarters and main base area following the liberation of Baghdad. The resort is surrounded by high walls with preconstructed security towers which contributes to more readily maintaining surveillance and security for the former resort.

Check out this article and video - double click this link

Here are my pictures:

Just so nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks we live in some luxurious playground, I've also included a picture I took earlier today while going to take care of some business elsewhere in camp - yes, that's a huge pile of burning trash. The picture doesn't do it justice. The garbage pile is several city blocks in size. Oh yeah - driving around the camp is an adventure in itself. I'll do a whole post on just what it's like to drive around here.